Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Missouri v. Celia


Before the very famous Dred Scott decision...Celia fights against slavery and institutionalized/ legalized rape of black women.

In 1855, the state of Missouri (a slave state) had a law that made it a crime to "take any woman unlawfully against her will and by force, menace or duress, or compel her to be defiled" aka raped.  It should be noted, there was also a law that married women could not refuse sex to their husbands and husbands could not be convicted of rape.

In the same year, Celia (a 19 year old slave) was convicted of murder and executed (an execution delayed until after the birth of her child) for killing her master (Robert Newsom) in self-defense after being assaulted repeatedly for over 5 years.

The judge explained the case "against" Celia:

Celia, being a slave was her master's property and while the rape of a slave woman by someone other than the master could be considered a trespass, an owner had the right to do what he wanted with his property.

The judge further instructed the jury to only consider whether or not Celia murdered Newsom and not the self-defense argument, since by law Celia was not considered a woman.

The only "historical memory" (omitting the sins of the master from the story-line) of this event printed in newspapers across America characterized this as a senseless and brutal killing at the hands of a slave, calling it...

"one of the most horrible tragedies ever enacted in our county." 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


December 7, 1941...a day we should never forget.

So much of my life has been influenced by the men and women who served our country during WWII...relatives, friends of the family, teachers, coaches, etc. all who left an indelible mark on my life. 

I am forever grateful for their service to our country over the past 75 years and for their love, toughness, sacrifice, and intelligence that helped mold me into the man I am today!

Ray Chavez (age 104 and pictured above) is the oldest surviving Pearl Harbor veteran and will return to Pearl Harbor with many others for the 75th anniversary and commemoration of the most infamous day in our history.

His words echo my emotions and hope for my students today.

"I hope people never forget...they can't."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


To attempt to understand/ ponder on this post, you will first have to read this very short short story entitled "Sweetness" by Toni Morrison.

Here is the link...

Beyond the obvious message on colorism, parenting, etc...I also hear W.E.B. DuBois (double consciousness, the veil, the color line) in this story.

But as I try to grasp at the soul of Morrison's story, I find White America in the first paragraph:

"It's not my fault.  So you can't blame me.  I didn't do it and have no idea how it happened."

Our family didn't own slaves...I didn't kill Emmett Till...I didn't beat Rodney King...I'm not a racist...I'm not responsible for Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and the names go on and on and on.

Can we really make any progress in America until we acknowledge the sins of the past and present...the true history of the African Diaspora...discard the controlling messages of those in power...revolutionize the mis-education and indoctrination of our youth...realize that human dignity and freedom is all of our responsibility?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Wings of Atalanta and "Education"

In my 30+ years of teaching, I have rarely heard an honest conversation on "what is success" in public education, only simple solutions before even understanding the problems...

In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois used the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes to illustrate the deep divide between a "modern" education and what he believed were the true ideals of education. He mused that the "modern" education was focused on preparing workers and making money over the virtues of learning Goodness, Beauty, and the pursuit of Truth.

"It is a hard thing to live haunted by the ghost of an untrue dream of material prosperity (high GPA, graduation rate, addition!) as the touchstone of all success instead of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Already the fatal idea is beginning to spread."

As widely reported in the media, an "Urban Prep" School in Chicago brags about the fact that 100% of its 55 students graduate from high school and 100% are accepted into four-year colleges (a slick marketing ploy) while:

  • failing to include the 100+ students who left the school in their data
  • dropping from 17.2% to 14.7% in its "MCA" proficiency scores
  • averaging 16.5 on the ACT exam

I suspect that many students have:

  • been conditioned to fear failure/ not see struggle as an opportunity for growth
  • accepted the effortless "perfection" of good grades over the joy of learning
  • avoided challenging and engaging classes in order to minimize effort

IMO (and DuBois'), the over-emphasis on measurement of standardized data, GPA, failure rate focuses our students and teachers on the scoreboard instead of "keeping their eye on the ball" of a true education. 

For students who find high school relatively easy, "staring at the scoreboard" can be quite affirming and for those who struggle on the scoreboard it can be depressing...and when they struggle later in life students begin to doubt, believe they are not smart, give up, etc. instead of  struggle as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Read Carol Dweck's study on the principles of fixed vs. growth mindset!

I believe that when we allow students (and teachers) to question, become truly curious/ engaged in critical thinking, value the true "joy of learning" (aka keep their eye on the ball of a true education) and not worry about their grades, keeping up with the common core, vertical and horizontal alignment...then they will be begin to develop a critical consciousness of empathy for humanity and a heart for social action (and they may even improve their GPA, increase graduation rate, and excel on standardized tests).

Then, America will begin to become great (not again) for the first time!

Thursday, November 10, 2016


In his book Souls of Black Folk (chapter IV), W.E.B. DuBois ponders the meaning of Progress in America by using his life experience as a young teacher in Black, rural Tennessee.

He starts with realizing his own educational privilege and how very hard/ almost impossible task it was to get out of extreme poverty and illiteracy caused by Jim Crow racism and government policies:

"If you wish to proclaim your power...send out your angels, the immortal, the pure ones, who are unsentimental and do not weep! Do not choose a delicate and tender soul.

In chapter IV he discusses his lifelong love and relationship with his former school and students and how Progress looked (after 10 years) for his former/ their community.

DuBois was perplexed by American Progress because in this community it only represented an increased love of capitalism and decreased freedoms...some more land, a "better" job, a little more money, increased family debt, a boarded up school, families dying from hard work, KKK violence, and strife, the Jim Crow section, etc.

But, he still finds life and love in all of it!

"How hard a thing life to the lowly, and yet how human and real!  And all this life and love and strife and it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day?"

These are the words I am trying to share with friends as we consider election day and beyond...

This is a new day and our journey toward true progress has only just begun, let's do it with life and love (and action)!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rigged Election

During this (and past) election cycles we have heard candidates talk of big money influence, backroom collusion, computer malfunctions, voter fraud and intimidation, etc. all in the name of "rigged elections".  Although there is very little evidence that the 2016 presidential process has been rigged (with the exception of the DNC working against Bernie Sanders in the "democratic" primary), many still believe there is the potential for a rigged election.

1876 Presidential Election Map

So let's talk about a truly rigged election...

In 1876 (just 11 years after the conclusion of the Civil War), Republican Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden, who had the overwhelming support of Southern White/ Democrat voters aka former Confederate/ White Power organizations. 

The electoral college vote, however, was vigorously disputed. Hayes claimed victory based on his "wins" in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina (those states were under Republican/ federal military control aka Military Reconstruction). Democrats submitted alternative election totals in those three states that discounted Black/ Republican votes and claimed a Democratic victory.

 A contentious election crisis ensued.

Congress (controlled by Republicans) set up a special commission to resolve the crisis.  Not surprisingly, the special commission (making a backroom deal) declared Hayes the winner of the election, in what has come to be known as "The Compromise of 1877." 

In the deal, Democrats agreed to give Hayes a victory they clearly believed he had not won. 

In return, Republicans agreed to:
  • Remove federal troops (and protection for African Americans and Republican candidates) from the South.
  • Support tax appropriations to rebuild southern railroads, levees, and other infrastructure. 

This rigged election effectively invalidated the "Civil War/ Reconstruction Freedom" so hoped for by African Americans and Radical Republicans, as southern state governments and white power terrorist organizations began a systematic renewal of the southern slavery system...denying the right to vote, imprisoning thousands of African American men in work prisons, developing Jim Crow "laws", sharecropping and debt peonage, and lynching thousands.

Much like 1877, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed have been pushed to the margins of  2016 America by the neoliberal economic beliefs of the Democrats and an election that is truly rigged against them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Election 2016:Why I won't vote!

A question I have pondered lately...

Why are you considering not voting or why are you voting the way you are?

In 1956, W.E.B. DuBois gave an impassioned protestations for not voting...this is particularly interesting since millions of African Americans (and others) had been historically denied the right to vote and it draws eerie comparisons to our current milieu.

He starts with a brief history of his previous voting record and then begins the crux of his argument:

"In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the Presidential ballot in a few states (seventeen in 1952), a "Socialist" Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by "force and violence." Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called "Communist" and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail."

As DuBois pointed out in 1956, there was no real difference between the two major political parties...both bow at the feet of big money...and both candidates "aren't as bad as the other."

Later in the article he continues:

"Negroes hope to muster 400,000 votes in 1956. Where will they cast them? What have the Republicans done to enforce the education decision of the Supreme Court? What they advertised as fair employment was exactly nothing, and Nixon was just the man to explain it. What has the Administration done to rescue Negro workers, the most impoverished group in the nation, half of whom receive less than half the median wage of the nation, while the nation sends billions abroad to protect oil investments and help employ slave labor in the Union of South Africa and the Rhodesias? Very well, and will the party of Talmadge, Eastland and Ellender do better than the Republicans if the Negroes return them to office?  I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?"

Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord...this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.

Is this despair and hopelessness talking or is it a dogged determination to see a true democracy to be born in America?

No!  It is "voting" by not voting...a true sign of protest!

He concludes:

"...we remain in the same mess. I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln,and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let's vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible."

I wonder what DuBois would write in 2016?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Abolish Columbus Day!

Over the past decades, many cities across the United States have followed the lead of the state of South Dakota (circa 1990) and replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

There are many reasons to not celebrate the "legacy" of Christopher Columbus:

1. Many historians are not sure that Columbus was even a gifted explorer...the Nino brothers are probably the ones who should get the credit for guiding these journeys.

Pedro Alonso Nino

2.  Even if I wanted to celebrate (which I don't) the first Europeans who came to the Americas, it would be Lief Erikson, not CC.

Columbus never set foot in North America.

3. The westward invasion that accelerated after Columbus' "discovery" led to one of the most brutal genocides in the history of the world...they flogged, slaughtered, raped, burned alive, enslaved, etc. all while laughing/ making sport and getting rich from their takeover.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Freedmen's Village

Over 1 million people per year visit Arlington National Cemetery, but very few who visit realize that a camp of former slaves (contraband of war) lived on these grounds (the former plantation of Robert E. Lee) as free people as early as 1863 and became known as Freedmen's Village...something our tour guide did not know or failed to mention!

Freedmen's Village was originally 50 houses that accommodated 2 families each, several schools and churches, a hospital, and an old folks home and was intended to protect slave refugees, train them in skilled labor, and begin to provide a formal education.  Eventually,  over 1,000 people called Freedmen's Village their home. Of course, many died here and are some of the small percentage of civilians buried at and near Arlington Cemetery.

Of course, this was not as idealistic as it sounds. Although slavery had been abolished in Union occupied territory, the North was not interested in blacks moving to northern cities.  Freedmen's Village was created by the government to prevent integration and freedom in order to keep Black people segregated.

Freedmen's Village was closed by the government in 1900 due to increased racial tension in the area, local business development, and the construction of the Potomac Bridge.

Are any of you thinking that this may have been the government's first gentrification program?!

No organized excavation of Freedmen's Village has ever been done, but parts of the cemetery were uncovered by recent construction (Sheraton Hotel) projects.

It is sad that the truth is not told at Arlington or deemed important by my tour guide...maybe someday the important lessons of Freedmen's Village will be more widely told (and government-sponsored racism/ gentrification will end.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Names and water are what I contemplate when I visit the 9-11 Memorial...


Lives well lived...

Lives cut short...

The laughs and smiles...

The stories...


Sorrow and Tears...



A reminder to live each day to the fullest...

Questioning, how should I live...

A hope that we never forget...




Monday, July 18, 2016

Fort Jay

Fort Jay is the oldest defensive structure on Governors Island, it is located on top of the original earthworks fortification constructed during the Revolutionary War to help defend New York.

During the Revolutionary War, the site was abandoned as the British overwhelmed the Americans in the process of their occupation of New York.  In the years following the war, the earthen works structure deteriorated and was eventually reconstructed in 1797 as a square structure with four corner bastions.

The entrance to Fort Jay

In the 1830's, the earthworks bastion was replaced with a star shaped sandstone and granite fort that was surrounded by a very high glacis (grassy area) and a deep, dry moat. Some of the dimensions/ features of the fort:

Elevation: Over 20 feet above sea level (the highest point on Governors Island)
Walls: 20 feet high and 8 feet thick
Dry Moat: 30 feet deep and 30 feet wide
Armaments: Over 100 large cannons

A Rodman Cannon at Fort cool!

But, most interesting to me was the history of Fort Jay as a Civil War prison.  Unlike Castle Williams (previous post) which housed enlisted soldiers, Fort Jay was "home" to Confederate officers.  Generally speaking prisoners on both sides who were officers were treated relatively well. At Fort Jay, Confederate officers well allowed to walk around the island, play games like baseball for recreation, correspond through letters with their family members, and even fraternized with Union soldiers.

Dry Moat and Wall looking North...

One of my "off the beaten path" places in NYC!

The Fort Jay Eagle above the Entrance

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Castle Williams

Castle Williams built between 1807-1811, is a circular cannon fortification made of red sandstone on 
the west point of Governors Island just south of  Lower Manhattan.  The "castle" was part of a larger defense system to protect New York City at the mouth of the Hudson River.  This system also included Fort Jay, the South Battery (also on Governors Island), Castle Clinton (at the tip of Manhattan), Fort Gibson (on Oyster Island...which became Ellis Island), and Fort Wood (at Bedloe's Island...the current home of Lady Liberty). These forts and battery systems helped protect New York from British interference with the American shipping industry and became an integral reason why the British chose not to attack NYC during the War of 1812.

Inside Castle Williams: Summer 2016

But, most interesting to me was Castle Williams role during the Civil War...

At times, there were over 1,000 Confederate enlisted soldiers held prisoner at Castle Williams. Conditions were horrendous (this was match the conditions of Union prisoners in Confederate prisons) with packed conditions, no heat, no running water, no beds, rampant disease, and 24/7 confinement.

Castle Williams...well worth the $2 ferry ride!

Me @ Castle Williams on Governors Island

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Governors Island

For just $2 you can take a 5 minute ferry ride to Governors Island and a walk through history!

Governors Island (called Paggank or "Nut Island" by the "First Nations" before being crushed by European occupation) is a 172 acre island less than half a mile off of the southern tip of Manhattan.

My wife and I intended to go to the island to take panoramic shots of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from arguably one of the most beautiful vantage points in NYC and unexpectedly we discovered a relatively quiet oasis of exciting "off the beaten path" history.

Lower Manhattan from Governors Island

These are some of the "discoveries" we made:

In 1624 the Dutch used Governors Island as the first landing place of settlers in New Netherlands Territory, making Governors Island the birthplace of New York and New Netherlands their first military base.

Governors Island was originally 69 acres and expanded to 172 acres in 1912 using materials excavated (nearly 5 million cubic yards of rock and soil) from the building of New York City's first subway line.

The oldest structure still standing on the island is "The Governors House" built (according to some sources) circa 1703.

During the Revolutionary War the Continental (American) Army fortified the island with an earthworks fort and 40 cannons, in anticipation of a British attack on NYC.

In 1794, Fort Jay (the subject of an upcoming post) was built on the site of the previous earthworks fort that was laying in ruins.

A moat surrounds Fort Jay

From 1807-1811, Castle Williams (the subject of an upcoming post) was built on the northwest corner of the island as part of a movement to fortify American ports from foreign invasions...both forts (and others in the area) proved very useful during the War of 1812.

Castle Williams

During the Civil War, the forts were used as an administrative site for Union officers and to house Confederate prisoners of war.

After the Civil War, Governors Island was used as a military prison (the east coast version of Alcatraz).

Civil War Rodman Cannon at Fort Jay

Thankfully, 22 acres of the island have been declared a National Historical Monument preserving an important part of history (and the ability to critically think about history) forever.

Friday, July 8, 2016

James Baldwin and July

"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time."

"Not everything that is faced can be changed.  But nothing can be changed until it is faced."

"Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." 

"I know you didn't do it, and I didn't do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, for the very same reason."

"Somebody, your father or mine, should have told us that not many people have ever died of love.  But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour - and in the oddest places - for the lack of it!"

"If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see."

"Love is a battle.  Love is a war.  Love is a growing up."